But there was another window in his soul through which he saw life with no refractions whatever; remorselessly, logically. Looking through the window, as he did when he talked to Barry Lake, or James Randolph, he saw life as a mass of unyielding reciprocities. You got what you paid for. You paid for what you got. And he saw both men and women—though chiefly women—tangling and nullifying their lives in futile efforts to evade this principle; looking for an Eldorado where something was to be had for nothing; for panaceas; for the soft without the hard.
He was perfectly capable of seeing and describing an abstract wife like that in blistering terms that would make an industrious street-walker look almost respectable by comparison. But when he looked at Rose, he saw her through the lens, as some one to be loved and desired,—and prevented, if possible, from paying anything.
Somehow or other those two views must be reconciled before a life of real comradeship between them was possible; before the really big thing she had promised Portia to fight for could be anything more than a tormenting dream.
Would the miracle solve this? It must. It was the only thing left to hope for. In the shelter of the great dam she could wait serene.
And then came Harriet, and the pressure behind the dam rose higher.
Rose had tried, rather unsuccessfully, to realize, when during the earlier days of her marriage she had heard Harriet talked about, that there was actually in existence another woman who occupied, by blood anyway, the same position toward Rodney and herself that Frederica did. She felt almost like a real sister toward Frederica. But without quite putting the notion into words, she had always felt it was just as well that Harriet was an Italian contessa four thousand miles away. Rodney and Frederica spoke of her affectionately, to be sure, but their references made a picture of a rather formidably correct, seriously aristocratic sort of person. Harriet had always had, Rose could see, a very effective voice in the family councils. She hadn’t much of a mind, perhaps; Rodney described it once as a small, well oiled, easy running sort of mind that stitched away without misgivings, to its conclusions. Rodney never could have been very fond of her. But she had something he knew he lacked, and in matters which he regarded as of minor importance—things that he didn’t consider worth bothering much about one way or the other—he’d submit to her guidance, it appeared, without much question.
She had written, on the occasion of Rodney’s marriage, a letter to Rose, professing with perfect adequacy, to give her a sisterly welcome into the family. But Rose felt pretty sure (a fragment of talk she overheard, an impatient laugh of Rodney’s, and Frederica’s “Oh, that’s Harriet of course,” had perhaps suggested it) that the contessa regarded Rodney’s marriage as a mesalliance. She had entertained this notion the more easily because at that time what Harriet thought—whatever Harriet might think—seemed a matter of infinitesimal importance.